Sector Ministries: As Important as the Finance Ministry for Good PFM!
Post Addis Ababa, the debate on development finance focuses in large part on the generation of the necessary additional resources to support the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Improving tax systems and compliance is an important element in this regard and strongly supported by the German Development Cooperation agency GIZ. Yet, taxation is only one side of the coin. Sound public financial management (PFM), especially at the level of sector ministries, should be the other. The generation of savings through more effective and efficient budgeting and expenditure policies in sectors may be as important for countries as resource mobilization through taxes. For instance, the IMF has recently shown that there is much to gain by reducing the inefficiencies around public investment management (IMF, 06/2015, Making Public Investment more Efficient). Moreover, the Collaborative Budget Reform Initiative (CABRI), through its sector dialogues, has done important work on highlighting the possible gains of improving value-for-money in program expenditure in key parts of the public sector. Sound investment policies and development-oriented public expenditure will enhance trust of citizens in their government and increase their willingness to pay taxes. Moreover, it will have a positive impact on the socio-economic environment of a country and generally, serve as a catalyst for development.
Here are some key messages from that document:
- Technical issues abound in sector ministries: Sector ministries have a vital role in the national budget process in spending resources efficiently and effectively, and in generating additional sources of revenue, through user fees for example. However, the guidance note highlights numerous weaknesses in their PFM systems. For instance, it has been found that the linkage between policy development and budget preparation is often weak, which can result in unrealistic budget proposals or budget allocations not matching policy goals (“unfunded mandates”). Allocative rigidity and inefficiency abound in virtually every sector. A lack of available data on sector performance and insufficient monitoring of expenditure are also key challenges. Defective procurement processes and retention of relevant information can obstruct budget execution and/or create loopholes for corruption. The implementation of modern budgeting techniques, such as program or performance budgeting often does not yield the expected results. The guidance note and tool touches upon these different PFM areas and also recognizes the common challenge of de jure vs. de facto implementation of budget reforms.
- Politics matters: The guidance note highlights the political factors that need to be taken into account to create room for reform, such as country context, institutional settings and legacies, political environment, personal interests and incentives, to name a few. On the one hand, GFG is often not seen as a priority for sector ministries. Their interest in, perception of, and incentives for GFG reforms often differ considerably from the Finance Ministry. This is the case because sector ministries at times feel strong-handed or sidelined by Finance Ministries’ decisions (e.g. on budgeting processes or resource allocations). On the other hand, it also has to be kept in mind that the policy objectives of Finance Ministries and sector ministries differ. The former is generally mainly concerned with maintaining fiscal discipline, while the latter are more focused on allocative efficiency and effectiveness, measured for example by progress in key socio-economic factors (such as improved education enrolment rates, reduced maternal mortality rates, etc.). Ineffective communication within the sector ministry as well as between the sector ministries and the Finance Ministry are recurring challenges for the development of sound GFG systems.
- Norms matter: The guidance note also stresses the fact that GFG reforms are embedded in a normative environment that can differ from country to country and may even vary among government institutions and individuals. The general governance situation in a country affects GFG reforms and outcomes. Systems are only as good as its people. Countries in which democratic governance, rule of law and respect of human rights is weak will likely show more resistance to GFG reforms. In such cases, more transparency, accountability and inclusive governance may be considered undesirable by the ruling elite. This makes it imperative to not only involve the executive branch of government in GFG reforms but to also include and empower accountability actors such as parliament (in particular public accounts committees and sectoral committees), supreme audit institutions, civil society organizations and the media.
The diagnostic tool included in the guidance note was developed with the intention to familiarize laypersons with GFG principles and their importance to sector ministry operations. It is meant to enable especially sectoral advisors and public officials in sector ministries to analyze GFG performance in sectors. Applying the tool can be a first step to engage in discussions on GFG reforms. GIZ intends to assist partner countries to better anchor GFG practices in sector ministries and enhance ownership of GFG reforms that will enable the achievement of the SDGs.
 Good Financial Governance Advisor at GIZ (German International Cooperation - Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit)
 Good Financial Governance Advisor at GIZ (German International Cooperation - Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit), currently seconded to the Global Partnerships and Policy Division at OECD-DCD
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